While our ability to fight the COVID-19 virus is currently limited by the absence of a vaccine or effective antiviral medication, it is a good time to remember the power of food as medicine. Our immune system may be in charge of defending us against sickness and disease, but it can’t do it alone without the ammunition provided by foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, plant-based oils, and oily fish (salmon, tuna). Antioxidants not only prevent and repair cell damage caused by cellular inflammation, but also act as the custodians to clean up the mess created by our immune systems’ battle with viral invaders by counteracting free-radicals and oxidative stress to our cells.
Whole-plant foods are our best sources of inflammation-fighting antioxidants, minerals (zinc, selenium), and vitamins (especially Vitamins C, E, A, and D) that help boost our immunity. Fruits and vegetables provide powerful antioxidants through their colorful phytochemical pigments. Some of the best choices for immunity-boosting include berries (blueberries, strawberries), leafy greens (spinach, kale), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage), mushrooms, garlic, ginger, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, citrus fruits, and nuts (especially almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts).
You can be creative in combining these colorful nutrient-rich foods in salads, soups, and stews and then boost them further with more antioxidant-rich herbs and spices (like oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, and turmeric) or sprinkled with crushed nuts or seeds.
Also, make sure to add a healthy fat source such as extra-virgin olive oil, avocado or nut butters to enhance the intestinal absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, C, E, and D).
Importance of Soluble Fiber, Probiotics and Staying Hydrated
It’s important not to forget that our gut-friendly microbiome, consisting of billions of enteric bacteria, works best to support our bodies’ cellular immunity when it is adequately fed with soluble fiber abundant in beans, oats, apples, carrots, and citrus fruits. Probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and miso can also help support our microbiome.
Keeping adequately hydrated is another essential way to help your body be prepared to fight off infection. While water works best, green tea can be an excellent alternative as it is abundant in flavonoids and ECGC, both powerful antioxidants. Fruit juices, unfortunately, contain more sugar than immunity-fighting micronutrients and should be kept to a minimum.
While trips to the market to get fresh fruits and vegetables may be limited in the current environment, you can rely on frozen fruits, vegetables, and canned or dried beans to be often just as healthy and tasty as the fresh version (as long as you check the label to limit those with added salt, sugar, or chemical preservatives).
In these uncertain, stressful times, eating nourishing, colorful, and delicious food can be one of the most pleasurable activities that we can focus on to help both our minds and bodies cope with stress and to help us feel empowered to strengthen our immunity and ability to fight off infection. We can also turn the negative of social isolation in our homes to our advantage by making cooking at home a fun and healthy way to bring our families together.
There has never been a better time to follow our organization’s mantra to “Be well. Stay well. Thrive!”
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Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, P.C. (Permanente) is our network of over 1,500 physicians who practice in our medical centers located in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia.